“Back In My Day”

By Dan Koch – @danvkoch

We are at a critical point in education and technology. I don’t say this with a massive reformation plan to our entire school system; nor do I say it to discredit any of the excellent work that I know is happening in many of our classrooms every day. I say this because it’s time to be critical of the narrative that is constantly spun over and over again–you know the one. The scrutiny of our youth, the pining-for-the-old-days rhetoric of “aren’t you glad you didn’t grow up with smartphones and you only had a stick and your friends to play with?”
I have an answer for this: No. I’m not glad. In fact, many of the opportunities and positive connections I’ve made in my personal and professional life would never, ever have been possible (or as strong) without also being “connected” to technology in some way. I think there’s a misconception that phones and computers, now that they are mostly all connected with ubiquitous access to the internet, act as an entity unto themselves–a surrogate “thing” to have a relationship with instead of our real-life, 3D human beings we share this planet with. Think about it–how many times have you seen a movie or read a book in which advances in technology ultimately result in a downfall of society and a dystopian future? No wonder this fear permeates our culture–the fear that our reliance on computers or connected devices will inevitably end in our demise at some point.

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I think this funnels itself into the rhetorical “back in my day” and “when I was your age, we didn’t have iPads or iPhones and we did just fine” comments. I think these are dangerous phrases to perpetuate. “Just fine” is a relative term. Sure, kids back in 1960 could have been “just fine” without Twitter, making an about.me page or knowing how to use Google Docs or social media. But think about it–can you really use the same sentiments for our children today? According to a recent LinkedIn search, the top three “hottest” global skills according to potential employers were Cloud and Distributed Computing, Data Mining, and Marketing Campaign Management. Many of the other skills listed have something to do with computing or social media.

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The point is, technology and computing aren’t fads, buzzwords, or some sort of unfounded movement that will go away with protests. It’s changed how we interact with literally all media, how we communicate with each other, the content we consume and create, and it’s here to stay. And I’d argue that it’s changed all of those things for the better. We cannot rest on the adages of old simply because we are comfortable, and we were able to “get by” without the tools our children now have. Companies advertise on Twitter and Facebook. Agencies fund campaigns for users with a certain follower counts to tweet something for them. Being able to manage your personal and professional digital tattoo (I’m beginning to move away from the term “footprint”) with fidelity isn’t a pastime or second thought any more, it’s a real skill that needs real practice–and more importantly, our time as teachers. We can’t ask students to learn the skills of writing, reading, and arithmetic and not give ample time to cultivating the skills they’ll need to live in the world around them as educated citizens.

In the excellent “Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros, he mentions a then-college-drop-out Dan Brown, and a YouTube video explaining his frustration with the educational system. To quote Mr. Brown,

“…You simply need to understand that the world is changing, and, if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.”

You may not agree with everything Mr. Brown says, but you can’t ignore the importance of his plea. So many students and teachers are used to “doing” school that we get lost in the copious amount of educational red tape that binds us to our old worksheets, study guides, and old ways of doing things. Information is everywhere–students have access to it without teachers. They don’t need textbooks to tell them our nation’s history anymore. However, accessing “stuff” on the internet is about 1/1000000th of the power of its platform.

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